The London Assembly has today passed a motion calling for a halt to government plans to scrap bursaries for student nurses and midwives.
The motion, which was agreed by 16 votes for and 6 votes against, claimed the decision to scrap bursaries from September 2017 was driven a short-term “desire to save money”.
“The London Assembly’s support… will be welcomed by nursing students across the capital”
It called on mayor Sadiq Khan, assembly chair Tony Arbour and Sarah Wollaston, chair of the health select committee, to jointly write to health secretary Jeremy Hunt requesting an immediate halt to the proposals until a “long-term and viable option has been identified”.
It also called on the government to consult “properly and openly” on how to improve the support available to students, in recognition of criticisms from some of the current consultation process.
In a statement announcing the result, the assembly said there an estimated 10,000 nurse vacancies in the capital and there were concerns that the scrapping of bursaries would be “detrimental to the recruitment and retention of nurses and midwives”.
Assembly member Dr Onkar Sahota, who proposed the motion, said: “Plans to scrap nurse bursaries could spell disaster to the future sustainability of London’s NHS.
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“London already faces a nursing shortage due to the capital’s rising cost of living,” he said. “We’re only going to see that made worse if we take away support from those wanting to enter the profession.
The government’s intention to impose a loan system is driven purely by a desire to save money in the short-term,” claimed Dr Onkar, Labour assembly member for Ealing and Hillingdon.
“It doesn’t account for the fact it will form a huge obstacle for those from poorer backgrounds and those with dependent family members,” he said.
He added: “The health secretary needs to put an immediate halt on proposals to scrap the bursary. We shouldn’t be making life harder for those who look after us when we are sick.”
The Royal College of Nursing welcomed the vote by the assembly. RCN London regional director Bernell Bussue said: “In London we already have a severe shortage of registered nursing staff.
“We want the government to put an immediate halt to these proposals and work with the RCN and others to identify a fair, effective and sustainable funding system for nursing education,” he said.
“The London Assembly’s support for our campaign will be welcomed by nurses and nursing students right across the capital,” he added.
The vote comes after hundreds of nursing students marched through London on Saturday in protest at the plans.
The RCN published survey results to coincide with the march, which suggested two thirds of current members would not have studied nursing if they had been required to take out a loan and pay fees.
In response, a Department of Health spokeswoman said: “We need more home-grown nurses in the NHS because they do an amazing job caring for patients, but currently two thirds of people who apply to become a nurse aren’t accepted for training.
“Our plans mean up to 10,000 more training places by the end of this parliament, with student nurses getting around 25% more financial support whilst they study,” she said.
She highlighted that the government’s consultation on student funding reforms was open until 30 June and encouraged “as many people as possible to contribute”.
The full text of the Motion is:
This assembly notes the government’s plan to end NHS bursaries for training nurses, midwives and allied health professionals from September 2017. The bursaries will be replaced with student loans.
This assembly also notes there is a nurse vacancy rate of 17% in London compared with 10% in England. The Royal College of Nursing has calculated that 10,000 nurse vacancies remain unfilled in the capital.
Student nurses and midwives are unlike other students. Often they are ‘mature students’ with dependents and they all spend 50% of their time in clinical placements as part of their qualification. This reduces their ability to access paid employment while in training.
The chancellor’s claim that replacing bursaries with interest-bearing loans will free-up 10,000 new places for nurses is based on the demand for places under the current system. The current applicant to place ratio is an argument in favour of the government financing more nursing bursaries, not an argument for the introduction of loans.
Research has not been conducted into how the introduction of fees will impact upon the application rate for nursing places. The government does not know if the introduction of fees will exacerbate the NHS nursing shortage. There is a high risk that a loan system will be an obstacle to people from poorer backgrounds and those changing careers later in life. Midwifery, in particular, attracts large number of mature students already saddled with debt from a first degree.
It is reasonable to assume that London will be heavily impacted by the decision to end the bursary system, due to the higher cost of living in capital. This was illustrated by a recent survey, which found four in ten nurses employed in London will leave by 2021 because of the cost of housing10. Further, given that housing costs vary considerably across London, the proposed loan system is likely to impact upon the capital unevenly, with some hospital trusts struggling more than others to recruit these most essential of front-line NHS employees. As a consequence, the removal of NHS bursaries may have a profound impact on the already startlingly high level of health inequalities in the capital and there will therefore be a negative impact on access to healthcare in London.
This assembly therefore believes recruitment and retention of nurses, midwives and allied health professionals in London will be made harder by the scrapping of student nurse bursaries.
This assembly believes that the decision to scrap bursaries is driven by a desire to save money in the short-term and that, over the long-term, costs will be higher for the NHS both financially and in terms of UK trained workforce working in the NHS.
Given the mayor’s duties in respect of health inequalities in the capital, this assembly calls upon the mayor, chair of the London Assembly and chair of the health committee to write jointly to the secretary of state calling on the government to put an immediate halt to the proposals to end NHS bursaries, until a long term and viable option has been identified which promotes the value of graduate and university degree educated health professions. It should also call on the government to consult properly and openly on how to improve the support available to nursing students, recognising the unique aspects of nursing degrees, and to increase the number of nurses, midwives, and allied health professionals in London’s NHS.